Nissan empowering blind South Africans at Are Itireleng

nissan3-500x500Nissan is strengthening its relationship with Are Itireleng centre for the blind by helping to transform the facility into sustainable business entity and providing housing as part of its Habitat for Humanity programme.

“Even if you don’t see, it’s not the end of the world. You can live by using your hands.”  Not the words you would expect from a blind man.

Peter Mogomotsi started losing his sight in 1979 at the age of 12.  After an unsuccessful operation Peter found himself completely blind six years later. Missing out on much schooling, Peter ended up at Are Itireleng where he learnt braille, typing and life skills.

He is one of 60 employees who works at Nissan SA supported facility, Are Itireleng in Zone 2 Ga-Rankuwa – a facility that caters almost exclusively for the blind – there are a few disabled employees too – Are Itireleng specialises in the manufacture of cane products and wire mesh fencing, as well as cushion- and pillow-making.

Today Peter is one of five wrappers who bind the joints of the cane frames to make sure they are secure. There is also a team of 12 weavers, led by a blind instructor. Despite their disability, Peter and his colleagues are able to work and support themselves and their families.

Are Itireleng’s objective is to empower blind people and those with disability in general,” says Are Itireleng’s executive director Simon Poo. “With skills and experience they can participate in the mainstream economy of our country.”

A retired accountant – volunteering his managerial, financial, marketing and training expertise – Poo is passionate about the Are Itireleng Trust, which he helped form when it became a business enterprise in 2010.

It was at this time that Nissan South Africa got involved. After giving assistance for the purchase of a NP300 pickup, the Rosslyn-based auto manufacturer visited the centre and saw its potential to change more lives

Says Keba Matlhako, Nissan SA’s BBBEE and corporate social responsibility manager: “Nissan was inspired with the courage and coping skills of people with reduced or no vision and we wanted to be part of efforts to ensure Are Itireleng’s viability.”

Nissan SA has since drawn up a structured programme to help Are Itireleng become a sustainable entity. An example is the creation of a website to boost sales and marketing.

When asked what Are Itireleng means to him, Peter responds with his usual wide smile. “Before I was living in a hostel. With an income, I was able to save and have now built a house for my family.”

Housing is close to Nissan’s heart. The company allocated 10 houses for Are Itireleng employees in phase 1 of its flagship housing project, located in neighbouring Zone 10.

In partnership with the City of Tshwane and Habitat for Humanity, Nissan is building   200 houses for needy families. Dubbed Nissanda – Nissan Development Area – by grateful recipients, 50 houses have already been handed over and the remainder are due for completion next year.

With eye care in the spotlight this month, it’s fitting that another important Nissan social activity is a schools outreach programme to provide eye screening and corrective spectacles. The mobile eye care unit – a converted Nissan vehicle which is manned by an eye care team – drives to schools, especially in rural parts of the country.

“Some eye conditions can be treated or prevented with early intervention,” says Matlhako. “We urge people to have their eyes tested at least once a year to pick up any abnormalities.”

For those with serious eye impairment, Peter is an example of overcoming the challenge. “You are still the same person. The only difference is you can’t see.”

A keen goalball player in his leisure time, Peter has adapted to his blindness. With the aid of a cane, he goes to work and back by bus. He knows the workshop like the back of his hand. And his dexterous hands wrap the cane joints with ease. “Visit us and see what we’re doing,” encourages Poo. “It will really open your eyes.”